Harry "The Rescue Machine" Pregerson
October 13, 1923 - November 25, 2017
Saturday, December 09, 2017 8:57 PM
It was my first day on the job, September 1978, and I was sitting at my desk trying to sort out what it meant to be out of law school and clerking for a United States District Judge. Judge Pregerson strolled into my office to see how I was doing and to offer a brief (but pointed) tutelage on judging cases in the Pregerson court. He pointed to the F.2ds and F. Supps lining my office walls, and advised that in deciding cases in his courtroom, we first decided what we believed was the correct and just result, and then did the research to . . . locate decisions to support our desired result. Well, this (to say the least) was not what I had been taught by professors back at our shared alma mater, Boalt Hall. I was not naive or innocent about The Law but still this advice was a bit startling. I probably uttered some sound that might be taken as indicating agreement, and turned back to my IBM Selectrix to begin work on pending cases.
There was another important, companion precept in the Pregerson court which I soon learned. Often, the best result in a case was no decision at all, but instead a settlement which would enable everyone to get something and claim a partial victory. Much of the Judge’s time was spent in Chambers schmoozing with the lawyers, exploring avenues for settlement (and schmoozing for the fun of it). This included the Judge’s own version of “shuttle diplomacy” as first one side stepped in while the other side cooled its heels in the jury room, and then the first group departed to mull its options while the opponents were subjected to the Pregerson touch. Much of my time, accordingly, was spent observing these mini-dramas, which were fascinating to watch.
I also of course learned about the importance to the Judge of his service in the Marines during World War II. And it was his abiding Marine Corps spirit which helped to animate his liberal and assertive views toward judging. That experience also gave him a somewhat more conservative perspective in matters of foreign affairs, as I learned one day when Congressman Corman dropped by and the Judge and the Congressman gave their hawkish take on the country’s failed war in Vietnam.
Other highlights from my clerkship included the Smitty trial where the legal team of Talcott and Lightfoot somehow managed to win a six-figure verdict against LAPD officers for false arrest (in a case that the Judge and I were sure the City would win); the beginnings of the L.A. Raiders football case; and our four-week holiday . . . uh, work detail in Hawaii in August 1979.
During my clerkship, we celebrated October 13, 1978 with a small party in Chambers as the Judge hit the “speed limit” (55) as he put it then. As a young man of 25, I thought he was old. But the Judge carried on, creating a remarkable record of service on the 9th Circuit for over 37 years, and enriching the lives of many more clerks that followed me. I will always treasure my memories of my clerkship year, feel honored to have had a place in the clerkship photo array, and know that on the bench and off Harry Pregerson helped many people in trouble and made a real difference in their lives.
Mark Posner (Silver Spring, MD)
Saturday, December 09, 2017 5:41 PM
Our whole family loved Judge Pregerson and I have so many wonderful memories of him. I'll share a few here.
First, I had the pleasure and privilege to be tapped by the Judge to run his kumbaya conferences. These were conferences at Flathead Lake (where else?) at which he made prosecutors and defense lawyers actually talk to each other and get along! He called me one day and said, "Laurie, you've got to do this. Bring these guys together. They are just bickering too much." Of course, all I could (or would) say is "yes." Off we went to the Lake. It was fabulous. Lawyers who argue all the time started to get along. They even got on horses because that is what the judge wanted us to do. And, we sat around the campfire and talked. The judge's face lit up as he told the story of how he courted Bern. She was his life.
My second memory if of when the Judge and Bern came to my daughter's Bat Mitzvah. It was such an incredible honor to have them there. He wore his hat and sat in the front row. As always, just having him and Bern there filled the room with love. It happened that he sat at the same table as a recent exoneree from our Innocence Project. You know the judge. He felt at home with everyone.
Third, I remember all of the times when I would go out with the judge to the Bell Shelter. Again, if the judge asked, who would refuse? I loved every visit. Just seeing the judge in action -- working the room, helping everyone there -- never failed to inspire me.
Finally, I was lucky enough to to with Aimee Dudovitz to bring the judge lunch this summer. We spent about two hours in chambers with the great man regaling us with stories from his life and the history of Los Angeles. It was as wonderful as it sounds.
It is almost impossible to put into words how much I loved and will miss the Judge. He was a mensch, a tzaddik, a friend, a mentor and an angel, all wrapped in one. He lived to help others. He was good and generous and honest and fearless. He made the world a better place. He made me a better person.
Thank you for sharing him with us. His memory will always serve for a blessing.
Laurie Levenson (Los Angeles, CA)
Thursday, December 07, 2017 9:46 PM
When the Center for Law in the Public Interest drew Judge Pregerson in the first case CLIPI filed, in December 1971, little did any of us think that the Century Freeway litigation would leave the kind of legacy that Judge Pregerson’s obituary summarizes. Keith v. Volpe became a blockbuster public interest case and consent decree in very large part due to Judge Pregerson’s many thoughtful rulings over several decades. He was a genius at weaving his judicial branch orders with the executive and legislative branches’ organization and power, so that all could (and would) move forward in tandem to achieve the desired result. He also cared very much about the less fortunate people benefitted by the consent decree he presided over for so long. It was an honor for all of the CLIPI attorneys to appear before him on countless occasions throughout the course of the litigation.
Carlyle Hall (Los Angeles, CA)
Saturday, December 02, 2017 8:24 PM
My first contact with Judge Pregerson was memorable, certainly sui generis: The clerkship interview consisted of me tagging along with him and a West Publishing representative as he visited other judges’ chambers selecting treatises and other law books for his empty shelves. Since Shirley Hufstedler, for whom I had clerked, had given him a favorable recommendation, he just asked me some questions about my background and life. Then he offered me the job. I gladly accepted on the spot. Little knowing how my life was to be forever changed.
President Johnson had recently appointed him to the U. S. District Court. I was his only clerk so I was able to work very closely with him. Besides his sage legal and lawyering guidance, he became a mentor in the most essential and broadest sense. HP led by example and two of the many life lessons I observed were the power of a strong moral compass and the profound lesson of doing the right thing.
Harry was always supportive, encouraging, and upbeat. His energy and work ethic set the tone for me. I gladly worked long hours and weekends--whatever it took to do the job, and do it well.
Harry Pregerson will forever have a place of honor in my personal pantheon.
Rest in peace, Harry.
Michael Waldorf (Pacific Palisades, CA)
Saturday, December 02, 2017 4:53 PM
My family met Harry and Bernie aboard the USS Gaffey on our way to my father's army assignment in Hawaii over 50 years ago. They became our dining companions largely because people at their assigned table made it clear that they were not friendly to Jews. My parents had no issue with that. I remember us all laughing a lot.
I know they made another trip to Hawaii because we met their kids. And I remember we visited them in LA, because I have a clear memory of Dean playing his electric guitar (a red Gibson, maybe?) and doing the solo from "Nowhere Man."
Bernie and Harry took me to dinner during my first year in graduate school at UCLA. I lived in Hershey Hall, which was then the graduate dorm. Harry told some funny stories about him and his friends trying to see the females in Hershey Hall, which was the women's dorm when he was at UCLA. And I remember talking to him about his decision to give Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys community service rather than incarceration for refusing to register for the draft.
Over the years I continued to follow Harry's career and decisions, admiring his sense of social justice. And from time to time, when I travelled the LA freeway system, I would find myself on the Harry Pregerson Interchange and think back to the USS Gaffey and think of my parents and the Pregersons.
My condolences to the family. He will be missed in so many ways.
Lesley Kawaguchi (Santa Monica, CA)
Friday, December 01, 2017 1:19 PM
I externed with Judge Pregerson in 2014 as a law student. I always remember him smiling and laughing, and making us laugh. He created an atmosphere of warmth and home in chambers. He will be missed by me and all those whose lives he touched. My condolences to his family. Though I am unable to attend the memorial service, I'll be there in spirit!
Jaimini Parekh (Seattle, WA)
Friday, December 01, 2017 12:28 PM
Judge Pregerson, has a place in my and previously homeless veterans, hearts . His decision has helped thousands of homeless heroes all over the United States.Thank you .RIP
Ralph Cooper (HOUSTON, TX)
Friday, December 01, 2017 11:50 AM
My name is Paul Zacks. I have known the Pregerson’s for more than 50 years. Harry and Bern always made me feel special and at home. Basically,I grew up with the Pregerson family! Dean and I have been best friends the entire time. Harry and Bern are a very real and large part of me and my family’s lives. 32+ years ago, Harry married my wife Joyce and I. Bern orchestrated the wedding, Harry presided over the wedding ceremony. Joyce and I have two beautiful daughters, Megan and Taylor, 27 and 30 years old respectively. Joyce and I often talk about being married by a District Judge. Any violations of our vows would result in the wrath of Harry (and Bern)! A tour of the court house jail many years ago is still vivid in my mind! After the jail house tour I told myself I need to avoid looking out of a cell! When the Pregerson’s were on family vacations, I stayed at their home and took care of it. I was certainly proud of their confidence and trust in me. Something I was always proud of was a picture of Dean and I on Harry’s home office desk. Dean and I did a lot of skin-diving together when we were younger. The picture was in Harry’s backyard. Dean and I were back-to-back with clams we dug up diving sitting on our shoulders. I felt like I was one of the family!! There are many, many memories I have with the Pregerson family. In closing, knowing Harry and feeling like a part of the Pregerson family has always been and always will be an important part of my life.
Paul & Joyce Zacks (Fountain Valley, CA)
Friday, December 01, 2017 11:33 AM
Judge Pregerson will be missed by many. The LA Times on November 13 published an op-ed piece by the Dalai Lama where His Holiness said: “My wish is that, one day, formal education will pay attention to … teaching love, compassion, justice, forgiveness, mindfulness, tolerance and peace.” Those words make me think of Harry Pregerson. More than anyone else I’ve encountered in my law career, he taught--and was a role model--for those ideals.
Dana Howells (Los Angeles, CA)
Friday, December 01, 2017 2:36 AM
Harry will always be a part of my life as he will be for so very many others whose lives he touched and made better. He is the voice inside me that says keep working, keep trying, be kind,lend a hand,and always do your best and what is right. Harry was the epitome of one person can make a difference. Harry also showed us that no matter how lofty a position you hold, you should always be genuine and humble and not above donning a Groucho Marx mask. Harry you will be sorely missed but never forgotten.
Lindy Swavely (Tumon, GU)